‘Mean girls’ dropped: Cheer coaches fired for molding snobby high school squad
El Segundo High School has fired its two longtime cheer coaches after members of the team and parents complained that they contributed to a “Mean Girls” culture by playing favorites, issuing threats and ostracizing certain girls, among other things.
Last week’s controversial firings of the two coaches, Marney Hagen and Nicole Martin, came on the heels of an independent investigation conducted by an attorney from out of town. The Daily Breeze this week obtained a copy of a three-page report, written by El Segundo High interim principal Ali Rabiei, based on that investigation.
“Each complainant generally alleges that District employees have each engaged in harassing, bullying and intimidating behavior director toward certain student team members; and have witnessed and condoned inappropriate and harassing behavior by ‘favored’ student Cheer Team members toward other student Cheer Team members,” Rabiei wrote. “We discovered sufficient evidence to substantiate the allegations.”
In addition to the firing of the part-time coaches, the school has discontinued its competitive cheer team, which in theory is a kind of all-star crew, though parents say there were no tryouts for the team. Meanwhile, the regular cheer squad — which performs the traditional cheerleading routines for football and basketball games — will carry on, but with new coaches.
The firings, which happened Dec. 10, has divided the cheer community, with many parents and team members rallying to support the coaches.
“Most of the girls on the team want to keep the coaches — that should tell you something right there,” said Mark Reppucci, the father of a team member. “I know (the coaches) personally and I like them both, but I don’t know them as teachers or coaches.”
Parents on the other side say the bullying has been an issue for years.
“The coaches had an attitude of still being teenagers themselves,” said one parent, who declined to share her name for fear of retaliation.
“It’s ‘Mean Girls’ behavior that is promoted not just by the girls and the coaches, but also some of the parents of the ones in the in-crowd,” she added, referring to the comedy film from 2004 about teen cliques.
These parents noted that many students and cheer-squad members who support the coaches have been taking their frustrations out on a single girl via Facebook and Twitter.
“There was a firestorm” on social media, said another parent, who also requested anonymity. “One girl has been targeted as the scapegoat. But it’s not just one girl — it’s the whole culture of the team.”
The three-page report is short on specifics, likely because it is a summary version of a more detailed and confidential document from the investigation, which was based on 17 witness interviews and other pieces of evidence, collected over a period of two months this fall.
But the parents shared what they believed to be a few egregious anecdotes.
A few weeks ago, the team was on the bus for an away football game. With them was a mother who was not authorized to be on the bus. Sometime during the game, somebody filed a complaint about the matter to school district administrators, who quickly intervened, informing the parent that she couldn’t ride on the bus on the way home.
Just before the bus started back for El Segundo, a girl on the bus reportedly cussed out another girl in a threatening manner, believing she was the one who made the complaint.
The coach, the parent said, didn’t intervene.
“She never came to the girl who was threatened and said, ‘Are you OK?’
Another parent shared a story about a girl who complained to the coaches about being bullied by other teammates. That girl was cut from the team, the parent said.
“They allowed the girls to scream at each other,” she said. “The coaches would sit there and not say anything. ‘Fight it out,’ they’d say.”
The parents said the coaches discouraged parents from getting involved. They also said the coaches friended the students on Facebook.
The regular cheer squad consists of two teams, the varsity and junior varsity. Combined, it includes 47 girls. About 10 girls who tried out to participate didn’t make the cut, parents said. The competition team, which had been in existence for about four years, included about 20 members.
It does appear that the cheer team has experienced some success. The web page of El Segundo High School congratulates the team for first-place finishes at a U.S.A. Regional competition.
The Daily Breeze reached out to both coaches via Facebook, but neither responded to the messages. Hagen had been a coach for eight years; Martin had been one for five. Both women are in their forties, according to parents.
Geoff Yantz, the superintendent of the El Segundo Unified School District, declined to comment about the matter, citing personnel confidentiality laws.
The report concludes, “it is apparent that the culture of the cheer program is hostile toward Cheer Team members deemed as ‘non-favored.’ The employees, whether intentionally or unintentionally, have created, or allowed to be created, an atmosphere of fear, intimidation, and general unfairness.”